Monday, December 12, 2005

Prosperity begins its work in China

The Economist: Trouble in Chinatown

IT IS hard to know what is most remarkable: the protest, the crackdown or the government response. A demonstration in a coastal settlement in a relatively rich province of southern China last week turned violent. Residents in Dongzhou took up spears, knives, pipe-bombs, petrol bombs and sticks of dynamite, first threatening to blow up a local power generation plant and then defying paramilitary police sent to impose order. The police, in gathering darkness and “in alarm”, responded by shooting dead at least three protesters and wounding several others. Witnesses spoke of sustained volleys of gunfire by black-clad riot police and other men in camouflage. Some described “very rapid bursts of gunfire” over several hours on successive nights last week.

Reports gathered by journalists who phoned villagers suggest that, in fact, many more were killed, perhaps 20 (one report said 50), including bystanders. Several of those injured are said to be hiding, fearing arrest if they venture to hospital. Amnesty International, a human-rights group, says this is the first time demonstrators in China have been killed by police fire since 1989, when pro-democracy protests were held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Though protests are increasingly common in China, the violence in Dongzhou was uncommon.

Comment: In this vastly under-reported (by the Western MSM) protest, there is a lot of significance. One thing that stands out is that the commander of the military forces was subsequently detained by civilian officials and criticized. Another is that the protest in question was over land confiscated by the government for very little compensation, and the protestors were, by Chinese standards, fairly middle class.

What does this show? That as people in China grow wealthier, they will become more conscious of things like individual rights and property rights. Graffiti on walls in Beijing reads "we want human rights". They will also start to ask questions of their political system. How well is the government doing? By what right do they rule over us?

Prosperity and freedom go hand-in-hand. One tends to lead to the other, whichever comes first. Whether the Chinese government resists the process, or by how much, remains to be seen. But, as the Economist says, "the calls for rights are sure to grow louder."

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